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Gone too soon

Friends, family reflect on Jessica Billy's 18 years • Police investigation into car accident continues

Posted: April 1, 2014 - 12:02am
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Juneau-Douglas High School students Iris Pilcher, right, Elijah Marks, Jeffery Isturis and Miranda Harvey, left, visit a memorial for Jessica Billy, 18, that they set up at the corner of Yandukin Drive and Old Dairy Road. Billy was killed in a car crash there last week.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Juneau-Douglas High School students Iris Pilcher, right, Elijah Marks, Jeffery Isturis and Miranda Harvey, left, visit a memorial for Jessica Billy, 18, that they set up at the corner of Yandukin Drive and Old Dairy Road. Billy was killed in a car crash there last week.

Jessica Billy was an 18-year-old Juneau teenager with her eyes set on University of Alaska Southeast, her heart beating for her boyfriend of nearly two years, and a sweet tooth craving Rockstar energy drinks.

“She was a very loyal friend,” said Iris Desiree Pilcher, a 17-year-old junior in high school who has known Billy since middle school. “Like if I said I didn’t like somebody, she didn’t like them.”

A tight-knit group of Billy’s friends gathered Monday at the site of the vehicle accident where the Juneau-Douglas High School senior was killed on March 26. As they adjusted fresh roses and silk ones on the roadside memorial they built for her and read messages written on a white cross, they remembered their friend.

“She seemed really quiet at first, until you met her,” Jeffrey Isturis, a 16-year-old high school junior, said. He remembered how she used to laugh until her sides hurt.

Elijah Marks, a 17-year-old junior, said he got to know Billy through a Goldbelt Heritage Foundation marine science camp and later found out they were related.

“We were cousins, but she felt more like a sister than a cousin,” he said. Marks said he wanted to get a quote that she lived by embroidered on a hat or T-shirt: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Police are still investigating the Wednesday crash at the intersection of Yandukin Drive and Old Dairy Road, about a mile away from the airport, where Billy was killed. Police said she and a 20-year-old man were passengers in a 1999 Honda CRV driven by a 18-year-old man that crashed into a semi-truck. The driver of the Honda was traveling southbound on Yandukin and failed to yield for the semi when he attempted to turn left onto Old Dairy Road, police said. Police haven’t released the names of others involved in the crash, aside from Billy’s.

Billy’s mother, Lucille Billy, did not want to discuss the crash itself since the police investigation is ongoing, but she asked the community to pray for her daughter’s boyfriend, who sustained critical injuries as the other passenger in the crash.

“We’re pulling for him,” Lucille said in an interview Monday.

Bartlett Regional Hospital spokesman Jim Strader said a 20-year-old meeting the police’s description of that patient was medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle shortly after being taken to BRH. Strader could not elaborate on the man’s injuries, citing health privacy laws.

The 18-year-old driver, whom Billy’s family members said was the boyfriend’s stepbrother, was treated and released on the day of the crash. The driver of the semi was uninjured, according to police.

Aware of the effect the loss may have on students and staff who knew Billy, the Juneau School District promptly began offering counseling support and had extra counselors on call. JDHS Principal Paula Casperson held a staff meeting before school Thursday and asked teachers to look out for students who looked like they needed extra support, said JSD Chief of Staff Kristin Bartlett. Casperson then broke the news to the students first thing Thursday morning in an announcement before the pledge.

Billy’s family is reeling from their loss and have been leaning on each other and community for strength.

“It’s still a shock,” Lucille Billy said, adding she wanted to thank everyone who has offered support. “Thank you to the community of Juneau, and community of Kake. There’s been a lot of support in Yakutat, where my son stays.”

Billy played basketball and volleyball as an underclassman at JDHS, something her best friend Pilcher remembers well.

“We were both really bad,” she chuckled.

Pilcher recalled Billy’s fondness for sweets: Reeses pieces, cake, maple donuts. But most of all Rockstar energy drinks, several cans of which Pilcher fastened to the roadside memorial with masking tape.

“That was her main thing,” she said, smiling. “On her last day, she was like ‘I’m trying to quit Rockstars.’ She bought a Red Bull instead.”

In school, Billy was most recently involved with the early scholars program and AVID, a national college readiness program. She was planning on going to UAS, her mother said.

“She wanted to take general courses before deciding what her major would be,” Lucille Billy said.

Billy began dating her boyfriend in April 2012, or maybe even earlier, her mother said, and the couple was making plans to celebrate their two-year anniversary soon.

Billy was the youngest of three children. She has two older brothers, Aaron, 28, and Shawn, 23. Her father is Paul Billy, who works for the laborers union. Her mother works for the state. She also had two nephews, Andrew and Jacob Billy, and a niece, Naavah Willis, whom she loved very much, her mother said.

Her mother said their family is originally from Kake and moved to Juneau in 2004. Memorial services are still being planned. Anyone who wants to help with funeral and burial costs can donate to a memorial donation account that’s been opened in Jessica Billy’s name at Alaska USA. That account number is 1297798.

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